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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted WilliamsThe Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is very well researched and attempts to balance the often contradictory sides of Ted Williams' personality. What is not in dispute is that Ted was the greatest pure hitter and greatest student of the art of hitting in baseball, something that is acknowledged as one of the most, not the most, difficult skills in sports.

Ted was also profane, abusive, and a total wreck as a husband and, until the very last years of his life, as a father. Even then he enabled a rather worthless son who exploited and tarnished Ted's legacy.

Williams was also a kind benefactor to many, particularly sick children through his support of the "Jimmy Fund" for sick kids, and out of his own time and money for which he demanded that no publicity be given.

Ben Bradlee's massive 850 page tome on Williams is very detailed, almost of the point of tedium, but still full of information and insight that make it indispensable in understanding Williams and obsessive sports psychology.

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Saturday, January 04, 2014

The "Make or Break" Term

Monday, January 6, we begin the Spring Term 2014 at Oklahoma Centennial Middle/High School.  This will be a crucial, really a "make or break" year for our school.  This term is the last in our School Improvement Grant, the money given to us to "turn around" the school from its "failing" ways.  So far, the results have not been all that positive, though there are some positive signs.

On the state department of educations "A-F" report card, we rose from a "D" grade to "D+". The feeling is that we will have to show much more improvement for the school to remain as it presently exists.  If this does not happen, we all face the possibility that we will need to apply for new jobs next year. I am not going to borrow trouble. I have enough to deal with right in front of me.

The district chose to send our principal, Charmaine Johnson to another school. Ms. Johnson did wonderful work during her two and a half year tenure. She helped me improve my teaching methods and taught us the importance of relationships in working with our students, among other improvements.  But it was judged that a change was needed, perhaps more than anything else to impress on us the seriousness of our situation.

There are many things beyond any teacher's control.  Those things I can't worry about. There is a need in front of me.  The young lives in my classroom need to know how to read, write, speak, and think well to succeed. Our goal as a school is to increase STUDENT achievement. All things that do not lead to this are distractions.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

A Visit to Ingalls

Hotel that was the site of the Battles of Ingalls
Yesterday, we decided to take a little car trip. Cat and I have always loved to take small trips to parts of Oklahoma we have yet to see. Skylar, our granddaughter has come to enjoy this also.  She wanted to go to see Stillwater and Oklahoma State University. I remembered that not far from Stillwater was the community of Ingalls, Oklahoma where a big Old West gun battle took place called "The Battle of Ingalls".

Other building from the Old West in Ingalls, OK
I was very pleasantly surprised to see so many of the original structures still in place. I wonder why more has not been made of this incident which was far larger than the much more famous "Gunfight at the OK Corral"?
Oklahoma Historical Marker detailing the battle.
Another building of interest to us was the old school building in the town. This was in much better condition than the rest of the building making me think that it is still in use for one purpose or another.
Ingalls School
Skylar found a friend while we were there.
Skylar and friend

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

On the Cusp of 2014

In a few minutes it will be 2014. Of course, a teacher's "year" bridges the old year and the new. At the end of my 2012-2013 year, I was a miserable teacher. I did not feel as though I had the respect of my principal, nor did I feel that I had done well as a teacher. I had struggled with my classes, particularly the seniors that year who seemed more interested in fighting one another than they were in learning. That began to change when the students, the juniors at the time began to report on their End-of-Instruction (EOI) test scores, which seemed to be much better than in past years.

 When I finally got the results, it turned out that over 80% of them has passed their EOIs. When the non-full time students were factored out, it turned out that 80% of the full-time students had passed, the highest scores in the school's history.

While I did not feel that I was the sole factor in this result, I did feel a great deal better about myself as a teacher, and it seemed to make all the difference to my morale and approach to teaching at Centennial. I felt that if there were one thing that made a difference, it was the fact that I had begun to develop relationships with the students that has deepened over the months. I have tried to help students celebrate their time in the school by cheering their victories and commensurating their losses.

 I also had much help from many of the consultants who came to aid our schools. The best advice they gave me was to go with my instincts to perform for the students. I have always felt that teachers are to some degree actors, and that I needed to "sell" what I the knowledge I wanted them to master. That freed me up to become a knowledge salesman, and that helped to get them involved in their learning.

 As I face this new year, I will continue to do what I have done. We have some changes coming on in our school. We will have a new principal starting on Friday. The students are expected to show improvement over last year.

Who knows what the state or district will do with our school. We will just have to carry on and remember that the only ones who really matter in all this are our students, our future.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Template for the Hard-Boiled Detective

The Big Sleep (Philip Marlowe, #1)The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book because it was listed on a book lover's web site entitled something like "Great Books Too Short Not To Have Read" or something like that.

Raymond Chandler created the template for the hard-boiled detective story. He was not the first to write in this genre. In fact, the origins can be traced back at least as far as the knight-errant tales of the Middle Ages. Chandler's Phillip Marlow is cynical, world-weary, and tough, but he is honorable and honest. His honesty is both his greatest asset and greatest curse as he makes his way through a world of self-serving deceivers. He won't betray a client, even when the client deserves betrayal. He helps the weak, especially women, but he won't be taken in by their seeming helplessness.

In The Big Sleep, Marlow is summoned to the home of General Sternwood, a wealthy, elderly man who has two daughters in their twenties whom he done a very poor job of raising. Sternwood is being blackmailed for something his youngest daughter, Carmen has done. This is not the first time this has happened with Carmen. Sternwood wants Marlow to take care of the matter. He also mentions that his eldest daughter, Vivian, has recently married a hood named Rusty Regan, but Regan has disappeared. Marlow's job does not include finding Regan, but Regan's disappearance figures into the plot of the story.

I am not a fan of detective novels or murder mysteries. Chandler's writing, though, I find fascinating. He is so fond of similes and analogies, that I wonder if he kept a bank of them somewhere close to his typewriter to pull out and insert in appropriate places. For example:
"The General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work show-girl uses her last good pair of stockings." The sentence captures both Sternwood physical and moral decrepitude.

I also loved Chandler's setting descriptions. He describes Vivian Regan's room thus, "The room was too big, the ceiling was too high, the doors were too tall, and the white carpet that went from wall to wall looked like a fresh fall of snow at Lake Arrowhead. There were full-length mirrors and crystal doodads all over the place. The ivory furniture had chromium on it, and the enormous ivory drapes lay tumbled on the white carpet a yard from the windows. The white made the ivory look dirty and the ivory made the white look bled out."

I recommend The Big Sleep to those who are detective and murder mystery fans as well as English teachers looking for a great source for teaching descriptive writing and the use of figurative language.

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Even the Browns

Even the Browns: Baseball During World War IIEven the Browns: Baseball During World War II by William B. Mead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book looks at the years baseball played under the shadow of the Second World War when most of the top tier players were called into the service. While the quality of play dropped throughout the major leagues, the Browns, baseball's perennial losers during that era, were affected far less than other teams largely because their players were largely cast-offs, has beens, and never weres. The Browns won their only pennant in 1944 and played the St. Louis Cardinals in the first, last, and only all St. Louis series, "The Streetcar Series", played in old Sportsmans Park.

William Mead, who as a young boy lived in St. Louis and watched the Browns and Cardinals play, gives us a fast-paced, informative account of how baseball managed to continue on during this war (professional baseball was suspended during World War I) giving accounts of how the league and its owners successfully lobbied to have the games go on for the sake of morale, how baseball adapted to war time conditions (night games became more and more a part of the schedule to allow war industry workers the chance to go to games), and how various players who otherwise would have not had the chance to play managed to make and contribute to their teams.

Recommended for baseball fans, war history buffs, and sports fans.

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